Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Compton’s Cafeteria Riot
Compton’s Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Compton’s at 101 Taylor Street in the Tenderloin was one of the few places where transgender people could congregate publicly in the city, because they were unwelcome in gay bars at that time. Because cross-dressing was illegal, police could use the presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar down.
On the first night of the riot, the management of Compton’s called the police when some transgender customers became raucous. When a police officer accustomed to manhandling the Compton’s clientele attempted to arrest one of the transwomen, she threw her coffee in his face. At that point the riot began, dishes and furniture were thrown, and the restaurant’s plate-glass windows were smashed. Police called for reinforcements as the fighting spilled into the street, where a police car had all its windows broken out and a sidewalk newsstand was burned down.
In the aftermath of the riot at Compton’s, a network of transgender social, psychological, and medical support services was established, which culminated in 1968 with the creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.
Gay History Project